CC, BB, Foundation, Tinted Sunscreens – what’s the difference, and which one to choose?

Navigating the world of base make-up can be confusing even if you’re a savvy skincare addict with years of experience under your beauty belt. And we completely understand. The beauty/skincare industry has an annoying habit of assigning the same names to different products or vice versa, which further confuses things. That’s what happened with essences and toners, serums and ampules. And now, the line becomes increasingly blurred between various base make-up options. To make things worse, the meaning behind alphabetic abbreviations can also differ depending on the country of origin. You’ll find that a CC cream from an American brand can be quite different from the Asian ones.

Today, we’re attempting to give a comprehensive breakdown of each category, in hopes that it will make your next shopping trip less stressful. Let’s dive in.

Tinted sunscreens

As the name suggests, it’s just that – sunscreen with a bit of color. You won’t find many (if any, really) options in the Asian beauty aisle, but some American brands have quite successful formulas that people love. Tinted sunscreens won’t cover any blemishes or discoloration, but will give you that natural, “my-skin-but-better” look. Seriously, you’ll barely feel it on your skin. Tinted sunscreen would be an ideal option for those who’re not big on make-up and want to wear as little on their face as possible. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that tinted sunscreens don’t have an array of shades to choose from. Since the coverage is ultra-sheer, there’s usually only one shade, so it won’t be an option for those with very fair or dark skin tones.

Foundation

The opposite of tinted sunscreen, the foundation is pure color. It works to even out your skin tone, camouflage blemishes, and give you an overall airbrushed skin effect. Meaning that even the lightest formula will still have a decent amount of coverage. Foundations can be formulated with SPF filters, but we wouldn’t rely solely on them for sun protection. Since it isn’t a dedicated sunblock, the quality of the filters can be questionable. Also, the SPF number rarely goes higher than 35, which is barely enough, and you’ll need to apply a face full of foundation to get this level of protection. Never a good look.

Foundations are an obvious choice when you have an important event to attend, which calls for flawless skin. Some lighter formulas will also work great for those who like to be more “covered up” on day to day basis. Just don’t forget your SPF!

BB cream

Dubbed as a “Blemish Balm” or “Beauty Balm,” this cream is essentially as a foundation with skincare. It’s meant to even out skin tone, cover blemishes (hence the name), and give the appearance of smooth skin. BB creams formulas also have various antioxidants, hydrating ingredients, and a decent amount of sun protection. Again, we wouldn’t rely solely on bb for sun protection, especially if you spend a lot of time outside. But since most of the BB creams (Asian at least) boast an impressive SPF 50, it might work for a day in the office.

BB creams are perfect for those who need a higher amount of daily coverage that’s also hydrating and nourishing for the skin.

The question, however, that logically follows is – if BB creams do everything foundation does, but better, why do foundation as a concept hasn’t yet become extinct? In short, because BB creams don’t offer nearly as generous shade line up as foundations do. Developing shades for darker skin tones is more complicated than merely adding pigment to lighter shades. Not every skincare company has the knowledge or resources to dedicate to this process, so they stick to tried and tested formulas. Also, because of added sunscreen filters (especially if they’re mineral), BB creams cannot compete with foundations in terms of a variety of finishes. For this reason, most make-up artists still prefer foundations over BB creams as the foundation allows for more creative freedom.

CC cream

MOTHER MADE Aqua Light CC Cream SPF 50+/PA+++

Originally CC, or “Color Correcting,” cream was designed as a lighter version of a BB cream.  Like BB creams, CC creams also contain various skin-loving ingredients but are targeted at those who want sheer, natural-looking coverage that adds a bit more color balance to the skin rather than covering it up. The primary functions of cc creams are to even out blotchiness, cover redness, and give skin overall brighter, woken-up look. It’s also supposed to be lightweight enough to be used as a color-correcting primer under a foundation if needed.

CC cream is ideal for those who want more coverage than a tinted sunscreen would offer, but find BB creams to be too heavy.

The problem, however, is that the difference between CC and BB isn’t always as straightforward. Some CC creams are dense and opaque with a foundation-like coverage. On the other hand, BB creams can disappear into the skin without leaving a trace. To add to the confusion, American CC creams tend to have more coverage (which brings them closer to the foundation realm), and BB creams are considered as their lighter counterparts.

The bottom line

For better or worse, a name on the packaging doesn’t always serve as a good indicator of what’s inside, but you can still use it as a general guide. We always recommend to get a sample and try the cream at home a few times before committing to a tube. Swatching in-store isn’t ideal as the lightning is often off, but it’s also an option. Just make sure to apply a cream on your jawline (not on the back of your hand) to get a feel of how a product works. If neither option is available, get in touch with the brand and ask for a consultation. Most brands will be more than happy to offer you guidance.  

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